Mayor Rob Ford is a hard guy to debate.
First, he is generally underestimated coming into every debate, which allows him to exceed expectations every time he manages to stand behind a podium and not say anything too offensive.
Perhaps more daunting to opponents, however, is a very casual relationship with the truth that gives Ford an inherent advantage over any candidates who at least try to stick to the facts.
The problem with lying is that it’s far easier to lie than it is to respond to a lie. So if Ford says, as he did at last night’s debate in Scarborough, that Olivia Chow was the “top spender year after year” when she was a councillor or that John Tory voted himself a big pay increase right after he became an MPP, those statements register. Because countering them requires a nuanced explanation, and nuanced explanations don’t work well in a format that is all about landing zingers.
Ford’s opponents could counter his approach by descending to his level and also disregarding the facts, but I wouldn’t suggest that. Ford’s dragged our politics down far enough already. They could also ignore Ford, but he’s not easily ignored.
Instead, I’d suggest mayoral candidates follow a line of attack opened up by John Tory last night in Scarborough — pointing out just how ineffective Ford has actually been while mayor.
It was Tory’s best moment in the debate, and maybe his best in the campaign so far. He pointed to delayed projects like the renovation of Union Station and allegations of mismanagement on the Sony Centre board.
It was a good line. It was a better point.
Voters need to understand that there’s little value in having a mayor who rails against spending and mismanagement if he’s shown no ability to lower spending and fix mismanagement. It doesn't matter if you agree with Ford's views on government if he can't — or won't — act on them.
Through this lens, Ford’s positions on key issues become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if he thinks the land transfer tax should be eliminated or TCHC buildings fixed because he can’t do those things.
Aside from eliminating the vehicle registration tax, which was also supported by his most left-wing opponent in the 2010 race, and a few other early victories, he’s demonstrated virtually no ability to do accomplish his stated goals over the past four years. More importantly, there’s no reason to think that will change.
There are many ways Toronto’s municipal election could go in October, but one thing that's certain is the next council won’t be any more willing to work with a hypothetical Ford administration than this one was. They won’t just blindly go along with plans to build subways without funding plans or eliminate taxes that make up significant parts of the budget. It’s not happening.
And without the support of council, all Ford can ever hope to be is a loud voice arguing against things that have happened or will happen, often with little basis in fact.
Toronto deserves a mayor who does a heck of a lot more than that. We deserve someone who can actually get things done and deliver. Contenders in the race for mayor need to keep hammering the point that Ford isn’t that guy.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/ford-for-toronto-matt-elliott/2014/07/16/john-tory-finds-the-best-approach-for-taking-on-mayor-rob-ford.html on 2014-07-16T00:00:00.000Z